Will Sonny Cumbie finally find some good luck with Tyler Shough in Lubbock?

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
Ypsilanti, MI
New Texas Tech offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie is walking into a tight spot out in Lubbock. There were Red Raider boosters who felt head coach Matt Wells was not the right hire after he went 4-8 in year one and 4-6 in year two and were pushing for the nuclear option, hiring Art Briles to restore Tech football. Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt didn’t go for this plan but Wells had to offer up an assistant as a sacrificial lamb and he chose offensive coordinator David Yost.

It’s hard for me to imagine how Wells could have made a worse choice. After his own offensive system had fallen off at Utah State, Wells had records of 6-7 in 2015 and 3-9 in 2016 and had to evolve his offense in order to keep his job. So he hired Yost, who brought knowledge of the Gary Pinkel HUNH spread from Missouri as well as Mike Leach’s Air Raid route tree.

The Aggies scored 29 points per game in 2015 and 23.9 in 2016, under Yost this climbed to 30.2 ppg in 2017 as they went 6-7 and then 47.5 ppg in 2018 as they went 10-2. This breakthrough success and Yost’s work with quarterback Jordan Love led to Wells being hired at Tech.

They scored 30.3 ppg and 29.1 ppg in the first two seasons at Tech while navigating injuries to quarterback Alan Bowman and a woeful defensive roster Wells has not yet managed to piece together into a coherent unit.

The precarious nature of Tech’s position is well illustrated by Wells hiring Sonny Cumbie to replace Yost. Cumbie was just made available by TCU, who didn’t renew his contract after a few years of faltering offense in Fort Worth, so he was hardly an exciting name or an obvious choice to salvage the Matt Wells era in Lubbock. On the other hand, Cumbie coached quarterbacks and/or coordinated for Gary Patterson’s three best seasons in the Big 12. He’s also a good recruiter who, despite horrendous injury luck in Fort Worth, managed to keep restocking their roster with talented quarterbacks. Cumbie has already put in some work at Tech, bringing over TCU left tackle T.J. Storment and Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough via transfer. Here’s how his plan will unfold in West Texas.

The Sonny Cumbie offense

Cumbie has followed more or less the exact same formula for the last seven years at TCU. He’ll install the Air Raid from spread sets but emphasize a zone-option game involving the quarterback and typically have his quarterbacks focus their throws to targets on the perimeter with screens, curl-flat combinations, vertical shots, and some of the standard Air Raid fare.

The trick of this approach is the way it makes use of a certain profile of quarterback Cumbie has regularly been able to find. He wants guys with some physical athleticism, both in terms of their arm strength and their running ability, and they needn’t be high level in terms of their ability to read coverages and navigate defenders in the middle of the field. The zone-option run game handles the job of attacking the middle of the field, the passing game is designed to go wide.

Trevone Boykin was his star pupil but Kenny Hill and Max Duggan followed similar prescriptions and Duggan was getting close to unlocking the offense if they’d had a year focused on Quentin Johnston as the star of the show rather than the hodge podge of personnel and packages they trotted out in 2020.

All three had some real speed to pull the ball on a zone-read and run around the corner as well as the arm strength to zip the ball out on the perimeter when defenses would try and get extra defenders into the box to account for the quarterback in the run game. The difficulty for Kenny Hill and Max Duggan related not to their inferiority relative to Trevone Boykin, but the inferiority of their targets relative to Josh Doctson.

Jalen Reagor was a raw speedster the Frogs struggled to sync with their quarterbacks and he was far and away their best talent over the span of 2016 to 2020 when they were trying to move on from the Boykin to Doctson era of TCU football. Quentin Johnston is far and away the best and most well rounded receiver they’ve had over this period and he was only a freshman in 2020 and not yet integrated as a main component of the offense.

If Kliff Kingsbury was the blessed for his good fortune, Sonny Cumbie is the cursed. In addition to getting the boot from Gary Patterson the year before he’d finally have an upperclassman quarterback for the first time since 2017 and an NFL caliber outside receiver for the first time since 2015, his injury luck at TCU was absurd.

Amongst their injuries, they had 4-star Shawn Robinson who was beat up in 2018 before finally shutting down for the season and then transferring out. In 2019 they would have liked to play 4-star recruit Justin Rogers but he was injured, or Penn transfer Mike Collins but he was hurt as well. They took in transfer Matthew Baldwin from Ohio State but...he wasn’t healthy, so they had to play the abominably bad Alex Delton until new 4-star recruit Max Duggan was ready. Then before the 2020 season some COVID protocols lead to the discovery of a heart defect for Duggan that sidelined him for a spell and lead TCU to basically throw away the Iowa State game by playing Georgia transfer and walk-on Matthew Downing.

It’s just Cumbie’s luck to jump out of that frying pan into the fire of Matt Wells’ situation at Texas Tech.

Cumbie’s offense with the Red Raider roster

Alan Bowman is about as bad a fit for Cumbie’s typical offense as you’re likely to find. In addition to being a touch on the limited side both in terms of pushing the ball wide or running the ball on the option, he’s also demonstrably injury prone and unlikely to hold up in a system asking him to manage the workload Cumbie tends to give his quarterbacks.

TCU QB workloads.jpg

At TCU the Frogs generally put a lot of the burden for carrying their offense on the running backs, but again this was in large part because their receivers weren’t very good. Bowman was averaging about 29 passes per game last season at Tech and about one carry and was still dinged up. Henry Colombi and Jett Duffey were given more to do in the run game but Duffey is gone and Colombi isn’t the sort of talent you ask to bail out a flailing head coach.

Fortunately for the Red Raiders, Oregon’s Tyler Shough was available in the transfer portal and Cumbie landed him in Lubbock. Shough played in seven games at Oregon last year and threw the ball 167 times for 1559 yards at 9.3 ypa with 13 touchdowns to six interceptions and ran the ball 66 times for 271 yards at 4.1 ypc with two more scores. On average he was throwing the ball around 24 times a game and running it 9.4 times. At 6-5, 220 with some long-stride speed when he’s on the edge and some legitimate zip throwing the ball, he’s exactly the sort of quarterback Cumbie is used to working with from his time in Fort Worth.

Here he is executing a triple option variety of the basic zone-read play:

He reads the end for a keep or give option but then instead of having a tight end lead block into the linebacker, the tight end (or receiver in this case) runs a flat route and Shough has to read that overhang defender for whether to throw it to the flat or keep it and plunge through the alley. Shough was very effective on this play last season, tight ends Hunter Kampmoyer and D.J. Johnson had six combined touchdowns, mostly on this concept.

zone-read triple option with TE.jpg

Shough can also push the ball wide and down the field.

His trouble was with interceptions. He’s accurate throwing in the middle of the field but he didn’t always see defenders or make the wisest choices, much like some of Cumbie’s projects in Fort Worth.

So the big test in Lubbock will be whether Cumbie can give him real weapons on the perimeter and whether the Red Raiders can build a good run game for him to work off.

Last year the Red Raiders ran the ball reasonably well and they now return four of five offensive line starters, losing of course exceptional right guard Jack Anderson but adding TCU left tackle T.J. Storment via the transfer portal. Both Sa’Rodorick Thompson and Xavier White return at running back, as does tight end Travis Koontz and top receiver Erik Ezukanma. There’s a lot to play with for a good coordinator with a plan on offense for generating run/pass conflicts and open space for skill players.

I’m guessing Storment will take over at left tackle, returning left tackle Ethan Carde will slight to right tackle, and right tackle Josh Burger will move inside to replace Anderson at guard. On these two clips you can see the effectiveness of the line in general and Burger at right tackle in particular.

Having an offense that can score has generally not been what’s held Texas Tech back for the last decade, but Cumbie has quickly recruited some players who might allow him to at least match what Yost was doing in Lubbock. Then it’s on Wells and his defensive staff to prove their aggressive, 3-4 defense can get any stops.
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